What Went Wrong
The Tender is not a Toy
This month's column explains why the tender is not a toy.
Almost all yacht marketing literature will call any hulled craft affiliated with a larger vessel a “toy.” Even a substantial 32-foot center console with a cabin will often appear on an enumeration of the big-boat’s “toys” – it’s right there beside the personal watercraft, kayaks and the Laser. Not to get caught up in semantics, but perhaps it would be worthwhile to give anything with a hull and a motor the respect it requires and in lieu of calling it a toy, call it “supplemental watercraft.” What follows are two stories – both true – that reinforce the premise that not all “toys” are toys.Collision at Sea
Several years ago, the crew of a large motor yacht was enjoying some well deserved downtime. The captain of the boat gave three of his crew permission to use the “toys.” Two set out on the PWCs and the third was enjoying some helm time with the center-console tender.
While the crew were playing on the water, the crewmembers on the two PWCs managed to lose sight of one another and collided, injuring one of the crew. The crewmember in the center console quickly came to their aid. Thinking the boat was in neutral, he jumped in to assist his injured crewmate. But, according to a representative with the boat’s insurance company, the boat was still in gear when the crewmember jumped in. The unmanned boat then collided with the big boat – not once, not twice, but three times, causing substantial cosmetic damage to the boat.
There were no life-threatening injuries associated with this incident, and despite a rash of terrible luck while trying to repair the cosmetic damage, the event was thankfully (if not miraculously) benign, unlike the second story of our duet.Fatal Error
It was 1995 and the crew of a yacht were – again – taking advantage of some time off while in Greece. A representative of the boat’s insurance company says that some of the crew had taken the tender to meet up with friends for the evening. Returning to the yacht after dark, the tender was cruising at speed when it hit a drainage pipe that jetted out over the channel. It was both unmarked and unlit.
The results were catastrophic. There were horrible injuries and several gruesome fatalities, which included more than one decapitation. The tender also was smashed. “They never saw it coming,” the insurance agent says. “It might be the most terrible claim I can recall.”
The two very different and disturbing stories both implicate a certain degree of complacency in using the boat’s tender. It is important to note that in both cases, the captain was not running the tender at the time of the accident. Aboard pleasure yachts, it’s not uncommon for unlicensed crew to be given liberal access to the tender without comprehensive training.
Laura Sherrod, who assesses special risks for Atlass Insurance, says, “In marine insurance, there are far more liability claims on the tender than there are on the big boat, and more often than not, it’s not the
captain who causes the incident but other crew.”
“What is the take away message here?” asks Spencer Lloyd, a veteran yacht captain now with Brown and Brown Marine Insurance. “There’s no mandate from your insurance company that requires formal training to operate the tender, but it is up to the captain and [his officers] to properly manage the guests and the crew and police the use of the toys and tender. You don’t want to be a killjoy, but you want to make sure that every aspect of the boat
is operated safely.”
In the era of larger, more sophisticated yachts, the accompanying tenders are following the same trends. “[Tenders] can have a large center console…with three outboard motors; they’re not a piece of cake to operate without sea skills. When you have crew who start out on really big boats [where there is limited access to helm time of any kind], despite their sea time, some of these crew have very limited small-boat handling skills. Ultimately, the tender and the toys are still in the captain’s command,” Lloyd says. “Personally, I think all boats should have a boat handling test for all crew before they are allowed to operate the tender or toys – well, there definitely should be – because what happens if you are in a
life saving situation?”
Lloyd maintains, “Professionals are usually incident free. Captains should use a lot more discretion when deciding who gets to operate the tenders and when. The [terms] should be consistent whether a guest is on [board] or not – just look at the stats and claims…every one of them is a perfect example of what not to do.”
Dear Anonymous, Be careful what you wish for. Do you really want many different insurance companies requiring competency tests given to crew for operation of tenders? I have been trying for years to get the yacht insurance companies to agree on common language to use for a basic application for insurance….. FO getaboutit. You are in command of the vessel and it is your butt on the line. Why not include a ride on the tender as part of the vetting process when hiring certain crew. Try unplugging the gas line to the engine & see how they react. Our industry is getting flooded with “paper qualified “people that lack hands on practical sea sense. Thanks, Spencer